Sometimes, a game changes in Early Access. Quite dramatically, at times. Others… Not so much. Case in point: Abyss Manager, a game where, last time I looked at it, I effectively said that the game didn’t want to be played, what with poor tutorialisation, lots and lots of grind, and, due to a big part of that grind being trying to balance beefy bastards of various species trying to kick down your door as a dungeon keeper, tournaments between other dungeon keepers, exploration, research, building up your funds… And beefy bastards takes up the majority of that time. And this, as I’ve mentioned before, is a crying shame, because there’s a cool research tree. Exploration is an interesting idea, even if its implementation is pretty basic: Send X of your employees to a site, hopefully pass a skill check, get loot.
to think of it, most of the systems in the game are like that. It’s a
very dry game. It’s colourful, aesthetically, with some good
lo-fi spritework, but battling is the majority of what you do, and
everything else… Well, it’s just kind of there, and some of
it (exploration and matches) will take some of your most powerful
creatures away from either employment or the battlefield for
several turns (As in, easily 7-10, sometimes more.)
As such, there really… Isn’t much to say. The grind still exists, as bad as before, the systems are ho-hum, the aesthetic can’t really save it from that, and, even turn based as it is, it’s somewhat stressful to play. I find myself struggling to write more, and so… I guess I’ll finish up by saying that, alas, things didn’t improve, and I can’t recommend this unless you’re really a fan of grind. It’s no doubt added some things, but… I can’t see them, precisely because the overall experience is dry and unappealing.
The Mad Welshman sighs. Sometimes he hates his job.
Source: Review Copy Price: £17.99 Where To Get It: Steam
Robots can be frustrating things. Colonists and their needs can be frustrating things. So… What happens when you put them together? Well, it sure ain’t cherry pie, friends. So… Autonauts is a colony building game, but instead of a group of colonists you control (directly or indirectly), it’s robots. Robots you… “Program.”
I would say we’ll get to that in a second, but no, it’s a core issue
with why I find the game so damn frustrating. It’s got a programming
language, programming limitations, but, apart from being able to
delete instructions, what is it actually? It’s monkey-see, monkey-do.
You set the robot to record actions, you do the things, and… Once
you’ve done that, you’d think it was over, right?
Well, not quite. You can change some conditions, such as loop
conditions, but without knowing that (It doesn’t actually teach
you that explicitly, you have to futz with that menu you see (or know
Scratch, and how it does that too) to know this.) But otherwise,
there’s not a lot of programming going on, and, since the
robots were designed by the Department of Cut Corners, the
early game is a massive drag for several reasons. Let’s start with
getting your basic industry up and running.
So, in the tutorial, it tells you you need three robots to log and
replant an area. Fine, cool, this is technically true. What it
doesn’t tell you is that, if you don’t want to be rushing
around trying to fill every one of their needs, from recharging (the
default bot’s battery life can best be described as “Shit”) to
needing tools when they break, you’ll want an extra two bots, one for
recharging, one for making tools, a set of crates to put those
tools in, and to go back and adjust the robots so they get a tool
from the crate when theirs is broken. Not to mention the log chopping
bots, the plank chopping bots, the storing bots, the recharge bots
for all of these, the mining bot, the stone storing bot, the charging
bot for those…
And until you have that basic logging and mining setup, you’re going
to be manually doing a lot of this work. Does it get any easier later
on? Not… Really. Because then, there are colonists. Who are
factories of a resource called, no joke, Wuv. Suffice to say, I have
very little Wuv for these parasites, because while I and the
robots are working our asses off to fill their pyramid of needs,
they… Well, they don’t really do anything except generate Wuv.
Which you need for research to improve their needs, and…
Oh shit. We’ve got more industries to deal with. Which you’ll be
setting up bots for. You can, to be fair, make this slightly
easier by… Building several robots to build robots, a specified
number, rather than an infinite loop. That way, you can just hit play
on up to four bots to build a more complicated bot. (their charging
bot is always active unless it loses battery, and no, another
charging bot won’t solve the problem, it’ll just delay
it a fair bit (Unless their batteries run down simultaneously early))
But I hope I’m getting across my main problem with this game: It is
perhaps the most busywork colony builder I’ve come across in a while,
because there’s not much breathing room for things to just work
without… Oh. Yeah. Doing the legwork to build, program, and equip
several bots for a single task that… I dunno, maybe those lazy
bastards we’re feeding, clothing, and housing could help with?
Aesthetically, by the way, it’s quite pleasing. Nice low poly look,
good sound, the music is… Well, it’s meant to be relaxing, but, as
you might gather, it hasn’t helped a lot. It has clear menus
(Although it should be noted that the Blueprint encyclopedia is also
the “What’s in the world” encyclopedia. So you know), the Scratch
interface for robots is somewhat clear (Yes, I missed
conditional loops for hours, so you can imagine how frustrated I was
before this small, but very significant detail was spotted),
so… This is alright.
But I have to admit, I’m not having fun with it. My colonists are parasites, my robots are flawed, and for every new task I need to do, there’s a lot more setup than is perhaps necessary, and I didn’t feel like the tutorialising was clear. Is it an interesting approach to a colony building game? Yes. Is it unfortunately an unenjoyable romp into this territory? Well, for me, at least, it was.
The Mad Welshman does count his blessings. At least it’s not the SP10 series we’re using.
Source: Review Copy Price: £16.99 Where To Get It: Steam
So… A city called Conglomerate, run by crimelord corporations, and we are… A not-crime corporation trying to take down the other corporations? Honestly, I find that last part the hardest to believe, and something that disqualifies it from being truly cyberpunk (more a… Dystopian sci-fi), but, whatever. This is the setup to Conglomerate 451, a step based, mission based RPG with elements from turn-based strategy games (between mission upgrades and research, expendable clone soldiers, healing, research, and some other things taking a mission or two)
And, having described the basics, I’m … Nah, there’s a fair amount
of details, and critique to get through here, so it’s all good. And,
honestly, apart from a few things that I don’t like, and a few things
I’m giving fair warning on… It is pretty promising. Although, at
first, it’ll seem a bit confusing, beyond the basics of “Move
around (turning doesn’t cost a move.) If someone sees you, you start
a turn-based fight where you can use one of four special abilities,
until one or the other group is dead. interact with things, loot
things, hack things, steal things. The mission is either to interact
with a thing, kill a thing, or kill lots of things.” What are these
special abilities? How do I upgrade them? What’s this “Vision”
thing? And why does this bigass gun only have 9m range?
Thankfully, though, there are tooltips (Although the ones for
stats are slightly hidden, which is annoying, and only slightly
helpful, also annoying. Arrow next to the stat block, then select a
stat.) The game also eases you in, giving you simple missions until
you’ve gotten the hang of things, cheap research, and then slowly
ramps up the difficulty. And what do missions get you, apart from
loot and the ability to upgrade people? Well, they make each
corporation a little less popular, a little less powerful, and they
make you a little more powerful.
The only crit I’d really have here is that I seem, currently, to have
less things to spend money on than any other currency, leaving me
with silly amounts of money, but nothing to buy because I’m limited
by Tech (less amounts per mission) or Lifeine (only available,
currently, with side missions you don’t participate in, but send
agents to, with a chance of failure)
Then there’s the maps. You find pretty early on that there’s only
some map variation for each area, the devil being, again, in
where something is placed. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight
anyone once you’ve got a mission, be it in the first part (getting to
the mission through the city area, with a chance to meet vendors) or
the mission itself. Sometimes… You’ll be glad of the option, if you
find it in the city area and hack it, of “Always ambush opponents
in the mission.”
And then… There are the two minigames, one for hacking, one for
extracting SPUs from whatever object apparently has them. The SPU
game is a little off, but do-ably so, so long as you remember that
you want to hit that square just before the wire hits it, and
to switch panels by clicking on them once you’re done with (or want
to prioritise) one. The hacking minigame, on the other hand… It’s
tedious, there’s no other word for it. Find the correct
highlighted memory address, port, or web address, click it… Now do
that another two times. Sometimes, you luck out, and get 2 at once,
but while it’s brief, it feels longer precisely because it’s
Aesthetically, it works alright. Enemies are quite distinctive, and
each area has its own types, from gangbangers, to drones, to that old
standby of both sci-fi and fantasy, the infected zombiemans. The
music is about what you’d expect (heavy synths, bass beats, and
sometimes, contemplative treble tones), and the UX, with the one
exception mentioned already, is alright. A bit workmanlike, but
And that’s the state of Conglomerate 451 right now: It’s certainly not a bad game, and it shows promise, but it is a little grindy, slightly unbalanced in terms of game economics, and a limited map pool to work from (Which, honestly, isn’t that bad, considering it also lets you know roughly what to expect.)
The Mad Welshman reminds people that, to properly call it cyberpunk, it has to be punk
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £10.29 Where To Get It: Steam
Let’s get one thing noted right now, because I know this is going to turn folks off: Archeo – Shinar is a game with the theme of 1920s archaeology, which, as fans of history may know, was colonialist as hell. The game embraces that as a thematic element, so you are not playing some philanthropist, but an asshole, employing assholes, exploiting land, meddling in ways that distort history, and the like. So be warned.
Fortunately, it… Honestly isn’t the most engaging of games on its
own. Essentially, it’s a 30 turn game, with two main segments:
Planning and Management, and Expeditions. The planning phase is the
meat of the game, but the expeditions are what mainly earn you the
points, events, and interest of the game, with the expeditions
being… Well, what your planning went toward, with some added risk
management thrown in. Do you use the person good at Archeology now,
or do you save him for a potential check down the line that might be
much harder (or use another skill which you weren’t warned about,
because he’s a really good everyman.) Succeed more than you fail, and
you win reputation and money for your shameless plundering (earning
artefacts you can sell on the black market for big successes, and
phobias, debuffs for your explorers, on essentially chance.) Fail,
and you get recompensed a small amount… Probably smaller than what
you spent on it.
Meanwhile, the management is where most things happen. Do you try and
sell your story to one of the papers? Who do you hire? How do you
train them? Do you make them take more risks, or play it much more
cautiously? What do you bring along? And what land do you bid on,
to exploit for bonuses down the line? In all of this, reputation
is important. Build up a good rapport with one paper, you can use it
to slander the other explorer(s). Get good land, and exploit it well,
get nice things. Take a risky play on the black market that pans out?
Free money, awwh yiss!
Thing is, a lot of this is, effectively, a black box, even on Easy.
You know what things do, and you know what the majority of
checks are going to be on an expedition, but a lot of it boils down
to taking a chance. And, for me, at least, it didn’t really feel
enjoyable. It looks good, with a simplified style that fits
the period it’s representing, some nice music, and a mostly clear UX
with good tooltipping, but its humour fell flat for me, its embracing
of its theme (historically accurate though it may be) didn’t sit well
with me, and playing it… Well, it didn’t feel like I really knew
what I was doing, even though I was staying afloat, and had a hotseat
to fall back on to learn the game.
And that, in the end, is what killed my engagement with it. Still, maybe others will find enjoyment, and that’s about the best I can personally say.
The Mad Welshman despises the bullshit the UK, among others has perpetuated over its history, not only in archaeology, but folklore, culture… A fair bit more than that, let’s say, in understated British fashion.
Last time I looked at Cliff Empire, it was aesthetically pleasing, with some exceptions, but, honestly, a god-damn mess to actually play. There was a lot of waiting, unclear resource imbalances, poor tutorialisation, and a trading UI that was as clear as mud, with Dead Man Walking scenarios everywhere.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the implicit subtext, with only decades
passed since nuclear disaster, the survivors on a space station
recolonising, and them recolonising literal ivory towers
(Well, okay, some sort of white stone, but still) with the power of
actually working for once, and bitcoin as currency… Well, suffice
to say, despite the criticisms of the game being legitimate ones, I
am much less sympathetic to the colonists in this game than I have
been for many others. I have more sympathies for the marauders who
occasionally crop up, even if they make my teeth grind, gameplay
So yes, Cliff Empire is one of those colonisation survival games, where you start with limited resources, that you have to use efficiently, because getting more is dependent on several things, not all of which you know beforehand. Is this the tower you start on with 100% Uranium yield, 40% Uranium yield, or precisely fuck all? You don’t know. Is the soil fertile enough for crops to do well? You don’t know until much later on. Can you afford the Uranium from your somewhat richer masters up top, or will you just have to cope with what you can eke out? You don’t know.
What you do know is how much groundwater there is in each tower, how well wind or solar power works there, and, the most obvious, if there’s a big honking pool of water that may contain enough fish worth harvesting, but definitely takes up valuable space which you could have used for one more maintennance panel.
Okay, so let’s briefly take a trip into “This is nice” town. The
aesthetic is pretty cool. The music is chill and relaxing, the cities
are neofuturist, and the inclusion of a tourist mode, where you can
spend your spare time wandering around the city (sort of) is nice. On
the downside, the trade UX still has that trap of “No clear input
fields, so you butt your head against the lack of buttonage, when
you’re actually meant to put numbers in the ‘sell if more’ and ‘buy
if less’ fields” I complained about last time. But mechanically,
it’s slow, it can be very trying, it has several Dead Man Walking
scenarios, even in the early game, and then… There are the quests.
The bougie masters up top demand resources. And if they do not get
those resources in time, you will lose some of the money you
desperately need, and only have limited means of generating for
yourself. Oh, and your colonists, if unemployed, despite being fed,
given furniture (never enough), gadgets (never enough), appliances
(never enough), and parks and other nice little perks, will steal
from your coffers. Hell, sometimes, if you haven’t provided enough
for the pampered little darlings, they’ll steal from your coffers
There is definitely potential in Cliff Empire, and maybe, one day, that potential will turn up, subtext of the narrative aside (Honestly, there’s not really any redemption on that front, especially in the current climate.) But it’s such a frustrating grind of a city builder, that I’m not having a good time, even with the relaxing music and nice aesthetic.
The Mad Welshman’s stance remains the same as it has been for quite a while: Eat the rich. Well, eat the rich who fertilise plants, the rich are quite unhealthy meals.